THE BICYCLES in YOUNG DRONES: A GRAPHIC NOVEL ROCK OPERA as part of SUMMERWORKS at the Lower Ossington Theatre (100 Ossington), Thursday to Saturday (August 14-16), 9 pm; Sunday (August 17), 4 pm. $15. See listing.
In the last decade, indie darlings the Bicycles have released three full-length albums, toured Canada extensively, designed an interactive DVD board game, gone on indefinite hiatus (and reunited) and rocked as the house band for Vish Khanna's talk show in this year's Long Winter series.
So what's next for a Toronto outfit that's done everything? A rock opera, naturally.
They've watched their fair share of musicals together. "Phantom Of The Paradise is kind of a big Bicycles movie," says guitarist Andrew Scott over drinks with drummer Dana Snell at Ronnie's in Kensington Market.
Still, Young Drones' stage directions and dress rehearsals are unfamiliar territory for the group.
The one-hour play, set in the future, is about two highly advanced military UAVs that fall in love and realize they don't want to be killing machines. Narrated by John Southworth, the story is told through overhead projections by artist Amy Siegel and 15 new songs by the Bicycles, to be released on limited-run cassette.
Initially a one-night stint at last year's SummerWorks, the show gets a four-night reprise this year.
And, along with its being their musical theatre debut, the show is another first for The Bicycles: a collaboration with an outsider.
The band handpicked their friend, playwright and musician Maggie MacDonald, to co-write and direct. "There were times when it was a bit difficult because we have our own way of doing things and we're so used to each other and our own annoying habits - our functional dysfunction," says Snell.
"It's like taking your girlfriend home for Christmas and she has to meet the whole family at once," adds Scott.
As editor and mediator, MacDonald strengthened the theatre side of the production, leaving the band to what they do best: writing catchy pop songs.
The soundtrack is classic Bicycles: sugary-sweet group vocals, plucky guitar melodies, punchy lyrics, otherworldly fuzz and little hits of requisite rock opera. It's not surprising that some of the songs have worked their way into the band's regular set list.
Although it began as a theatrical experiment, the Bicycles proudly stand behind the album that's come out of it.
"Young Drones is not just an exercise we did," says Scott. "It's some of our best stuff."